Responding to The Children's Commissioner report into sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:
'We know from our experience working with hundreds of child victims of abuse and exploitation that way too many are still being let down by the very professionals there to protect them.
'This report shows that there are particular problems with attitudes towards teenage girls, both from professionals and from their peers.
'The report describes that all too often girls and young women are being dismissed as ‘promiscuous’ or ‘slags’, rather than being treated as victims of abuse. It is vital that these attitudes are challenged.
Teach children about consent
'It also shows the double standards many children and young people have towards girls and young women. We need to get better at teaching children about healthy relationships and consent.
'The guidance for professionals in social care, education or health services already exists. But it is clear from this report and from our work with young people that it is not being followed. It is not good enough to just wait until a child discloses abuse or sexual exploitation. Professionals need to develop proactive approaches and respond to signs that a child is at risk.
'Schools, health and youth services must also get better at teaching children about healthy relationships. They need to teach both boys and girls about what consent means, so children can protect themselves from becoming involved in exploitation.
Improve attitudes and awareness
'The Children’s Society is also calling for more gender-specific services, to help young men and women improve attitudes and awareness. For example our Safe Choices project in London works with young women leaving care and Youth Offender Institutions to develop critical thinking, self-confidence and help them make safe choices.
'And The Children’s Society in Lancashire, works with boys who are at risk of sexual exploitation. It also helps boys who are identified as potential perpetrators to challenge negative attitudes towards girls.'
For more information please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.
Notes to editors
- The Children’s Society has nine projects across the country supporting more than a thousand children per year who are at risk of sexual exploitation or running away. These are based in Manchester, London, Newcastle, Lancashire, Coventry, Bradford and Devon
- The Children’s Society in Lancashire, which provided evidence to The Children’s Commissioner inquiry, runs projects such as:
Boys as victims of CSE. Boys are not always perceived as victims of CSE and professionals do not always recognise they are at risk until it is far too late. We have a full-time worker that not only works with boys referred to us but that works with groups in schools and children's homes and through that work has begun to identify new boys at risk. This worker also trains professionals and advises them on boys and CSE and how to better support them.
Boys as potential perpetrators. The project ran a six weeks programme with two groups of boys in a school that was struggling with the attitude of some of its male pupils in relation to females in general and their peers in particular. These boys were identified due to their behaviour and attitudes which meant some of them had already been suspended from school and there were concerns that as they grow up, these young men would become perpetrators of sexual violence and CSE.
Night-time outreach. The police have identified a growing number of young women regularly found out at night on the streets talking to men in cars. This was particularly concerning because they fiercely rejected engagement or support from any service. This situation was compounded by the fact that most of these girls had turned sixteen and there was a general feeling that there is nothing more that can be done.
The project has developed a night-time outreach programme to meet, engage and befriend these young women. This has been planned in partnership with the police as a long-term initiative but the project goes out to meet the young women as a single independent agency to counteract the prejudice these young women have against statutory services. The outcomes of this work have not yet been evaluated as the project is still in its initial stages.